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Photographing Kids The McGillicuddy Way

Photographing Kids The McGillicuddy Way - In part three, Damian steps away from portraits of young ladies to show you how he photographs children.

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Portraits and People

The best piece of advice I think I’ve ever been given was by my Dad! He told me that if everybody was "zigging" that I should "zag". I’ve had some really fantastic feedback from you guys and gals for my previous articles so I thought that it was the right time now for "Something completely different" and to move away for a short while from glamorous and beautiful young ladies and shoot another genre... whilst still showing that its technique and application and not kit that makes an image.

Bath Time
Bath Time

Image Concept:

The concept for this image was to show that quality imagery can be made almost anywhere with the minimum of equipment. I want to encourage all to see picture taking opportunities everywhere, you just need to prompt yourself to look. Today's how it was done was inspired simply by bath time with my two youngest kids!

Location: A family house in Dromad, Ireland.
Subject: My middle boy Cal.
What was in the bag: Olympus E3 with the Olympus 14-54mm f/2.8 to 3.5 (set at about 70mm on FF)
1x Nissin Di 866 Speedlight
1x Elinchrom Universal Skyport
1x 36” McGillicuddy BIG dish multi modifier.
Sekonic L-758D light meter
Camera settings: Image captured in RAW
ISO 100, f/3.5 @ 1/25 sec
RAW file processed through Aperture 3.1.3

So what did I do and why did I do it:

As I explained previously this image was inspired by bath time. I’m very conscious that kids seem to grow up ever so quickly these days so I wanted to capture a portrait of complete innocence with a soft and gentle feel.

I wanted my portrait to be free of "filling" and "window dressing" and to engage straight with the subject so I decided to strip everything away apart from the absolute necessary, key elements of the image.

Keeping with the simplicity I selected a plain, flat painted wall as my background and Cal was positioned approximately eighteen inches off the background as I was conscious that I wanted to use the shadow his body would cast as part of my overall composition.

Styling wise, again I chose simplicity, keeping within my theme. The simple white towel hanging off his shoulder, the wet, slightly tousled hair and the direct slightly sad look all add up to give the image a simple and direct, "hug" me message! The feeling in this image is just as important as the technical aspects and they conspire hand in hand to create an image that I genuinely believe is greater than the sum of its parts.

Technically I started where I always do with my trusty hand held meter. I took a light meter reading of the ambient light in the room. This would drive my shutter speed selection as I wanted to use the ambient as my fill light. The intention was to just use one artificial light to follow the "minimum kit" ethos I’m peddling at present.

36" Beauty Dish
I’m having a mini love affair with Olympus kit at the moment and one of the bonuses of shooting with the Olympus E series cameras is the stunning in built image stabalisation which really helped me shoot this at 1/25 of a second!

Selecting a light modifier for this shoot was quite simple. To follow through with the scene I needed soft light. It still needed to have shape and direction so lets not confuse soft with flat.

The 36" McGillicuddy BIG dish multi modifier was the perfect tool for this job as it balances beautifully portability with the quality of light that this image needed.

I set it up not as a beauty dish but removed the inner deflector and replaced it with an inner baffle to spread the light and turn it into a quality softbox. The light was further softened by the outer diffusion screen. Please note though that I selected the "circle" shaped diffusion screen to give myself the biggest, most natural shaped catchlights in Cal's eyes.

You can see the transformation in these behind the scene images, it literally takes 30 seconds to go from one to the other!

 McGillicuddy BIG dish multi modifier  McGillicuddy BIG dish multi modifier with baffle

I wanted my focal point to be those stunning blue eyes and the mask of Cal’s face so I determined to shoot with a shallow depth of field so it was just my intended focal point that was truly sharp. You will notice that the towel and even the subject's ears aren’t critically sharp and that just enhances the face further. So I only needed a "blip" of flash to over power the ambient and for it to become the main light in my image... f/3.5 it is then... sorted!

Olympus make some STUNNING optics and the quality of the files their cameras produce just give beautiful tonality especially in the skin.

I decided that I should go with a classic lighting pattern as it would suit the image intent so I chose "Rembrandt" for its sculptural quality. The "key" light was placed to camera left and at an angle of approximately 45 degrees to Calum and about 35 degrees above his eye line. In essence I’m looking to create a triangular patch of light on the cheek furtherest from the "key" light. The light was then "feathered" back so just the edge skimmed across the subject creating relief and the illusion of depth in my image.

Behind the scenes

Et voila! it was really that simple, the shoot took just 15 minutes from set up to completion and really was that simple and straight forward.

Any post production?

The image was converted to black and white within Aperture and the usual "tidying up" of stray hairs and skin imperfections was carried out.

The image was than run through onOne softwares photo tools 2.6 (this is FAST becoming a habit!) where I gave it a Gold tone then reduced the vibrancy of the effect. I then ran the edges to black function to hold the viewers eye within the frame and give an outer rigidity to my composition. This line used to be known as the photo journalists "line of integrity". In other words it was the edge of the neg which showed the viewer that the journalist was portraying the "truth" within his image and nothing was being hidden or manipulated. A message I was keen to portray within this study so felt it was an appropriate gesture.

For this session I also took another frame, where the towel was wrapped tighter and the lines within itself were used compositionally to create dynamic diagonals and post produced it slightly differently to show you that there's not just the one way to 'skin a cat', even though the capture technique is identical.

This image had the compulsory cloning done as is my norm. Then I subtly and slightly desaturated the file slightly to give me the soft, muted pastel hues reminiscent of old film. Before adding my black "line of integrity”" I further enhanced the antique feel of the image and the yellowing of the background by running a texture over the top of the image in photo tools 2.6 which again I made more subtle within the software by ‘fading it back’.

I hope you enjoyed this installment as much as I enjoyed writing it. I look forward to seeing you all on one of my future workshops were I can SHOW you that it's really easier than you think to achieve beautiful photographs.

Finished Images:

Bath Time Bath Time

Damian McGillicuddy.

You can read the other parts to Damian's guide here:

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Fantastic, I'm really looking forward to the workshop at th weekend! I'm ready to be inspired Smile

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